Zen, Riesling and Song


Sensual extravagance and Germanic origins are not usually mentioned in the same breath. Humming Wagner while ironing a pair of lederhosen and keeping an eye on the pot of boiling cabbage is about as extreme as any German can get to sensual Nirvana.

But strange things happen when wine gets drunk by the right people in a cool place. Here, even very German wine contributes to an extremely pleasurable assault on the senses.

Last week I found myself at a kind of Riesling challenge, courtesy of Neil Pendock, Julien Schaal and J?+¦???+¦?+¦????rg Pf?+¦???+¦?+¦???+ætzner ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ a Riesling relishing troika of diverse origins. Neil writes about the stuff as quickly as he knocks it back. Julien makes it in Alsace, and J?+¦???+¦?+¦????rg is an ex-sommelier who currently imports wine ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ especially Riesling ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ in between his organising of refreshing wine shows.

The three decided to settle a long-standing debate as to which Rieslings might taste better on one specific night, hence the getting together of a bunch of wine-loving folk at Kyoto Garden Sushi in Cape Town. And look, Kyoto Garden Sushi is as apt a venue to host a Riesling tasting as the OK Corral tends to be the right place to hold a gun-fight.

Kyoto is clean, austere and ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ yes ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ Oriental. The low lighting, however, lends an ominous, sultry noir shade, further enhanced by some seriously good-looking patrons (the chicks weren’t bad either) and tasty waitresses including a tall Chinese lady who made my back ache every time I looked at her hands holding a bowl of raw clams.

But back to the wines: Julien and Neil had collected some Alsatian Rieslings, while J?+¦???+¦?+¦???+ærg had coached the German team. Ten of us each had two glasses, and we went at it head-to-head: one nation in each glass. Unidentified, of course, the labels being revealed after the fervent discussion concluding each respective flight.

Before the taste-off, surly threats were hitting the streets. The Alsatian contingent were threatening “to kick the krauts off their Erdingers”. The Germans were planning an invasion of the palates, attempting to once-and-for all convince that Riesling is German and should bloody well-stay that way.

Fortunately, the judges’ and organisers’ inherent love of wine won. By the fourth flight, scores and such were deemed nonsensical and too shallow for describing the true magic of the experience.

My Riesling palate found the issuing of scores impossible. The German wines jumped out of the glass with petals and Turkish delight, honey-suckle. Cool, delicate, gorgeous. The wines from Alsace had length, minerality and steely resolves. Citrus, especially grapefruit, was prominent and the wines all showed why Alsatian cuisine is so highly regarded, for these were all crying out for cream, game and seafood.

JL Wolf, Dr Loosen and Wittmann featured prominently in the German line-up. Wittmann’s “Kirschpiel” was a real boner with a head of acidity accompanying the mouthfuls of floral-and-honey notes.

,On the Alsace side there was a Boxleer that impressed hugely with its structure and mouth-feel, while Julien Schaal’s own Riesling was honed to tuning-fork precision. Clean and zingy with fine fruit on the aftertaste.

Most of the wines were from the 2007 vintage and thus relatively young by Riesling standards. It would be a real revelation to do the same tasting of wines ten years older and thus ascertain the legendary aging potential of this haunting grape variety.

I, for one, was quite wasted by the sixth flight, and this was when the party got going. Aforementioned Chinese waitress and her brunette buddy started hauling plates of fishy things to the table, with a sushi emperor next to me stating that this really is the best in Cape Town.

Sea snails, clams. Squid. Salmon. Tuna. White mussels. Noodles. The feast just kept on coming and the formal tasting was replaced with a Riesling and Japanese extravaganza accentuated by stories of wine and war; love and malice; ancient vineyards and cool rivers.

Who needs zen and karma when you are part of experiences such as these?

Things did, however, get serious when the issue of South Africa’s interpretation of Riesling was raised. And like most matter South African, these were gentle, refined topics. Such as the consequences of having of a President with illegitimate children, the execution of illegal gold miners outside Johannesburg and the effects of Crack Cocaine on Western Cape school-children.

A castle on the Rhine, built by Riesling.

To South Africans, Riesling is masked in the kind of confusion that makes Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dress sense seem lucid and explanatory. For long the sluttish workhorse Crouchen Blanc grape was permitted to make wines labelled as Riesling in South Africa. Which is pretty much like giving Hulk Hogan access to the stage at the Bolshoi Ballet.

The result was brutishly dry, hard wines with “Riesling” on the label. The fact that the Krauts did not declare war on South Africa for permitting this not only displays their vinous irresponsibility, but also the fact that they’ve become a bunch of pussies.

However, a few South Africans toiled away planting the Real Riesling, here called Weisser or Rhine.

Of late, a couple of ardent local Riesling producers are making a go at making wines with attention as well as trying to educate the public that Riesling is not the blunt one-dimensional acid bomb they had been duped into believing it was.

The best South African producers today are Paul Cluver out in Elgin, Bon Courage in Robertson and Jordan in Stellenbosch. Tasting the 2007 vintage in a line-up at the end of the Kyoto party, it is clear we have a long way to go.

Sure, no-one can replicate the Mosel or Alsace. But the local Rieslings all fall way short. Not that they are uninteresting. The Cluver has a splurge of bracing, sherbet-like fruit and the Bon Courage and Jordan grasp at a waxiness that is faintly reminiscent of the European wines.

But length and dimension, they are not a there.

But hey, South Africa is New World, OK, Wolfgang?

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4 thoughts on “Zen, Riesling and Song

  1. Yes but did you notice how low in alcohol they were? One of the three you mention (i forget which) has 6.5%! Crazy stuff. They were beautiful.

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